Florida State WR Craphonso Thorpe played through a foot injury at the Senior Bowl
With one busy week – and one long, hastily-scheduled bus ride that circumvented the icebound Atlanta airport – behind them, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are back at team headquarters after coaching in the 2005 Senior Bowl.
The Tampa Bay staff coached the South squad on Saturday, and was thus on the losing end of a 23-13 decision. Despite that ending, the week was a winning experience for the Buccaneers, particularly in terms of the upcoming NFL Draft.
Head Coach Jon Gruden told his South players on several occasions to think of the week of Senior Bowl practices as one long job interview. And the Buccaneers had the equivalent of several dozen human resources managers presiding over the week.
Buccaneer scouts will continue to cross the nation for workouts, and the team will send as many reps as ever to February's NFL Scouting Combine. Tampa Bay coaches will watch highlight tapes and read reports from the scouts, as always, but they will already have well-formed opinions on the roughly four dozen prospects with whom they just shared a week.
"There were 45-55 guys on our team who – forget about having to take an airplane ride across the country to work them out individually at their school, or meet them at the Combine where a lot of things are scripted – we got a chance to see in the real world," said Gruden. "We got to collaborate with them on what we're doing, why we're doing what we're doing; we found out who loves football and who likes it. It was exciting. I think it's a real asset, certainly with the players we coached."
The Bucs have a better feel for the toughness of Florida State WR Craphonso Thorpe, for instance.
Thorpe honored his Senior Bowl commitment despite an unusual foot injury resulting that might have kept many players on the sideline. He even played in the game on Saturday, though his one catch for 10 yards is less significant than his hours of gutsy work on the practice field in front of hundreds of NFL scouts and coaches.
"I was really impressed with him, particularly with the fact that he came here with a foot injury," said Gruden. "He had horrific blisters on his foot. I didn't think he'd be able to run or walk or play in the game, but he was out there displaying very good toughness and running good routes. He has a knack for making big plays; he made a couple [in practice]."
Thorpe is sure to be drafted this April; various projections consider him a second to fifth-round pick. Where the Buccaneers have him rated won't be shared here, but it is fair to say that his overall scouting report was affected by his Senior Bowl week.
Almost all of Thorpe's South squad teammates will be drafted, too. Of the 48 players who made up the South roster last year, 40 were selected in the ensuing draft. Game MVP Philip Rivers, the North Carolina State quarterback, was the fourth pick overall; South team Offensive MVP Greg Jones and Defensive MVP Darnell Dockett, a pair of Florida State products, went in the second and third rounds, respectively. Rivers was clearly going to be one of the first quarterbacks taken regardless of Senior Bowl performance, but Jones and Dockett may have improved their standings with good weeks in Mobile.
The Buccaneers, who have 11 picks in this year's draft and are counting on an infusion of young talent, need to perform well in those middle and late rounds. What they learned at the Senior Bowl can only help, as many of the prospects on hand are likely to be chosen in that middle range. Of the 40 players drafted off the Senior Bowl South team last year, 15 went in rounds three and four and another 14 came off the board in rounds six and seven.
"We understand that we have issues that we have to overcome," said Gruden. "Drafting, and stringing a couple really good drafts together is one thing this franchise has to do. It's critical we do our homework and take care of this aspect of business first.
"You have to have good prospects, you have to draft well, not only in the first round but in the middle rounds. You need rookie contracts for the salary cap. At the same time, you need depth. You need to develop players who can become stars."
The Bucs took the first step towards that goal last week at the Senior Bowl.
Senior Bowl Review
Buccaneers.com was on hand for the full week of work at the Senior Bowl, reporting from practice, gaining inside access to team meetings and providing a photographic record of every practice. Below are a collection of links to review Tampa Bay's week in Mobile.
Features: * One Talented Team: A look at the South roster to start the week. * First Impressions: Coach Gruden commends the South team on its first practice and talks about the challenges of the week ahead. * Inside Access: Team Meetings: Inside a closed-door meeting, Coach Gruden tells the players what he liked and didn't like on the practice field. * Perfect Tutors: South squad players discuss the Bucs' coaching staff. * Running Deep: Running Backs Coach Art Valero discusses the talented collection of backs on the South roster. * Inside Access: Special Teams Buccaneers.com attends a restricted team meeting and shares in a crash course in the kicking game. * Fundamental Knowledge: LSU's Corey Webster shares the valuable lessons he is learning from Defensive Backs Coach Mike Tomlin. * Draft Decisions: Coach Gruden talks about the possibility of players rising and falling on the Bucs' draft board. * Inside Access: Final Team Meeting: The players get one more round of coaching on Saturday morning before heading to the stadium for the game. * Southern Discomfort: Despite a strong start on defense, the South team falls, 23-13, in the 2005 Senior Bowl.